In college between my freshman and sophomore year, I stayed up in Buffalo for the summer and worked as an orientation aide. That meant I just welcomed weekend after weekend of freshly graduated high school seniors and put on skits and gave tours and screamed at them that college was awesome.
It’s kind of hard to remember now.
I wanted that job SO BADLY.
I don’t even know why!
It was actually a coveted position with hundreds of students applying for just twenty or so jobs. I interviewed with a panel of people and for the ‘creative expression of why I wanted to be an orientation aide’ part of it, I stood up and sang a song I made up the lyrics to, set the tune of Christina Aguilera’s “What A Girl Wants” about why I wanted the job.
(A song I had rehearsed and tweaked for WEEKS prior.)
You guys, that was an actual experience in my life, singing that song at a job interview.
The entire panel of interviewers went immediately slackjawed.
Then they hired me on the spot.
The next summer, I lived with my parents on Long Island and commuted into the city twice a week to take ballet at Barnard and to study with my voice teacher’s voice teacher who lived and teached in midtown, a sassy opera singer with a slight Southern accent who would constantly accuse me of not standing up straight enough.
“YOU WANT YOUR TITS ON THE COUNTER, LAURA!” she would yell grabbing her own enormous chest. ”TITS UP ON THE COUNTER!”
(I can’t tell you this story in person because I have never said the T word for boobs out loud before in my life as I find it crass and horrible. But that piece of the story was too amazing to share.)
I couldn’t afford to pay my voice teacher’s voice teacher with money so we made a deal: once a week she would teach me and once a week, I would clean her apartment/studio.
A few weeks into the arrangement, she remarked that the floors weren’t getting as clean as she’d like, all that New York City grime and all.
“How ’bout you use some of them rags under the sink instead of a mop? Put some cleaner down and just go to town scrubbin’!”
Included with the rags under the sink were some of her husband’s old t-shirts and some of her own old holey underwear.
It was honestly the biggest underwear I had ever seen. Because she was, you know, an opera singer and they are generally a large people.
So I used those ‘rags’ to clean her floor, often finding it easiest to first splash some cleaner down as she had suggested, then put one foot on each rag and ‘skate’ around the apartment.
And so this is how that summer looked:
waiting tables on Long Island at night
voice lessons and ballet in the city during the day
once a week spending an entire afternoon ‘ice skating’ around an opera singer’s apartment on her very large underpants
I seem to have forgotten how much time and effort I have put into things in the past when I really, really wanted them.
I honed the lyrics to that Christina Aguilera parody for so long and re-wrote my cover letter and application a handful of times because I wanted that job so badly.
I wanted to learn to sing and dance so desperately that I BARTERED cleaning services in order to do so.
CLEANING SERVICES INVOLVING UNDERPANTS!
When I have cared, I have exerted myself past what I thought was possible.
It seems that a year or two ago when I changed my mind about what I wanted to pursue in my life (a musical theatre career most notably), the ‘working’ towards that goal petered out as well. And that would be okay except that the ‘not putting forth effort’ thing seems to have translated to other aspects of my life as well which is A VERY SNEAKY THING.
I never considered myself a lazy person and it’s true that I do work a lot and I’m involved in lots of activities and la dee da.
I’m having a hard time gaining momentum to pursue anything else seriously.
I can’t seem to jumpstart creative projects UNLESS they are easily attainable (which, most are not!) and/or I can achieve them on a clear cut path that requires effort but not too much of it. Even in terms of more longevity with my day job, I find it hard to fight for permanence. It was always fine for me to coast by as a temp because WHO KNOWS WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS?
But that’s not really…helping me.
Most things came pretty easy to me as a child and I immediately discarded things that didn’t because I didn’t enjoy the feeling of not being good at something. I always liked being the best and winning and being praised and all the other things that go with being a ‘gifted’ child. (Whatever the hell that means. In my case it meant a general sense of not having to work very hard and still produce above average results.)
I was (am!) a very sore loser and due to my sensitivity could not at ALL lose or come in second place without erupting in tears or losing complete control. This was very scary to me as a kid and so I naturally gravitated towards things I knew I could excel at to avoid intense feelings disappointment, embarrassment, frustration. I never learned how to properly work through those feelings so I tried to minimize experiencing them. Note: NOT THE BEST IDEA.
Actual critique from a music director in college: “Laura, I wonder what would happen if you actually tried LESS? If you actually made some MISTAKES? Then we might be able to get to something that’s interesting.“
(Okay fine, he didn’t have to say it QUITE LIKE THAT but he had a point.)It has been hard work as an adult to do things that I enjoy that also might scare me.
To pursue things that sound interesting but do not come easily to me.
To work hard. To work REALLY hard. To sacrifice. To stop taking what’s there because…it’s there. And it’s easier.
To fall flat on my face in a puddle of my own terribleness.
In my early twenties once I realized this was the case, I made a habit of doing things outside my comfort zone pretty regularly just to exercise that muscle, getting used to taking risks, trying to be okay with making mistakes and not being perfect.
But over the past year or so, I’ve really let that fall away. I become easily frustrated and find myself giving up on things because they aren’t within reach.
I’ve decided that I am wayyyyyy too young to be surrendering because life is too hard so why bother blah I’ll just be over here watching mindless television, etc.
I’m still not sure exactly what I should pursue full throttle, but I’ve decided to just treat everything that comes my way as worth it until I know for sure. I’d like to just GO FOR THINGS without agonizing about how hard it seems and what’s the point. I want to put in the time and effort I used to, to push myself past what is comfortable.
Maybe I needed this year or two to just chill out and relax after so many years of pursuit and accomplishment and GO GO GO.
But, I think it’s time for vacation to end.
I’ve definitely thrown myself willingly into hard work before. I know I can again.
I’m just not sure this time there will be as many old pairs of underpants.
But it’s definitely possible.